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Blackburn vs. Arsenal match preview: Hit the North

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Blackburn Rovers vs. Arsenal
Saturday, September 17, 745 AM EDT
Ewood Park, Blackburn, Lancashire, Where It's Gray
Televisual coverings: ESPN 2, ESPN 3, ESPN Deportes

Arsenal travel to remote, isolated Lancashire this weekend to face Blackburn, who currently sit dead last in the league on one point from their first possible twelve. Of course, Arsenal haven't exactly set the world on fire, either, but Blackburn are facing a protest tomorrow, and manager Steve Kean is under tremendous pressure. Talking about the job ahead of him, though, he draws comparisons between his situation and Arsène Wenger's:

"Like Arsenal we are developing young players. I think we are trying to buy and play younger players and develop their talents," Kean said. "Phil Jones, for example, did not have a squad number when I arrived and now he is worth 20 million.

"Then there's also Junior Hoilett, Martin Ollson, Grant Hanley. Look at Jason Lowe who will play tomorrow. I have a 16 year old who is like Steven Gerrard at his age. The thing we have to do is get in the top half of the table this year and invest in 24-28 year olds that hold the young group together."



Indeed, Kean has only been in the job since December. He took 22 of 63 possible points in his time in charge last year, and 23 of 75 possible including this year, which isn't sparkling, but could be much worse. Wenger has come to the young manager's defense, saying that all managers need time.

And indeed, that is the case for Arsenal as well. It is important to remember that it takes time to develop the kind of understanding in both attack and defense that Arsenal's style requires, and although one can question the wisdom of playing a high line without pressing as the team has so far, that pressing style takes time to sort out, as A Cultured Left Foot notes. Similarly, the intricate passing that has been a highlight of Arsenal's play is not yet there, but players such as Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun should be able to forge creative play given time. Per Mertesacker's game is dissimilar enough from most Arsenal defenders that he will need a little time as well to work out how best to complement the skills of Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, but he is good enough to do the job even when new to the side, as at Dortmund.

And then, this is Blackburn. Arsenal should be eating this team's lunch. Nothing is certain, of course, but this is a Rovers team shorn of stalwarts David Dunn, Morten Gamst Pedersen, and Ryan Nelsen through injury. Defensive giant Christopher Samba is a slight doubt, as is David Hoilett--the latter hurts Rovers the most if he's out, as he has been their most dangerous player by some ways this year, completing 2.5 key passes per game (according to Who Scored) from the left side of Blackburn's midfield. Central midfielder Steven N'Zonzi generally dictates the flow of play, and he will be crucial to Rovers' hopes tomorrow, particularly in the absence of Hoilett and Pedersen. Argentine Mauro Formica will play in the hole and will have to take up a lot of the creative slack as well.

For Arsenal's part, the returns of Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky are probably still on hold. The pair, along with long-term training room residents Vermaelen, Jack Wilshere, Sebastien Squillaci, and Abou Diaby, leave Arsenal a bit thin at midfield and central defense. A team more or less the same as the one that started at Dortmund will probably feature, which means that Mertesacker and Koscielny will hold down the fort in the middle with Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs by their side (although I personally would like to see a start from Andre Santos, and this wouldn't be a bad place to use him, probably, as Blackburn aren't a huge threat down the right). Alex Song and Emmanuel Frimpong, along with Gervinho, are all available after their various disciplinary problems, of course.

Up front, although I still think it would be interesting to pop Andrei Arshavin in behind Robin van Persie and have him play off of the latter as well as a slightly deeper-lying Mikel Arteta, I doubt that will happen. More likely is the pairing of Arteta and Yossi Benayoun that Wenger deployed in Germany, with Gervinho and Theo Walcott on the flanks and Meerkat waiting in the wings.

Probable lineup (4-3-3): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Song, Arteta, Benayoun; Gervinho, van Persie, Walcott.

Prediction: Arsenal score within the first 15 minutes through a van Persie strike off a Walcott cut-back; 1-0 holds until Blackburn find an equalizer after Song heads Koscielny in the face accidentally; Arsenal score three more in the second half, and then everyone eats chicken together under the stars by candlelight. Romantic, romantic chicken. FRIED CHICKEN IS DELICIOUS.